Over the past thirty years of camping I’ve owned or used several different pump-type filters and tried different chemical purification options. Each has their merits and drawbacks. Pump-type filters have been prone to mechanical failure, tricky to use, prone to clogging and slow to use. Chemical purifiers take longer, leave an aftertaste, and depend on carefully measured, accurate proportions.
Providing a group of Scouts with water multiplies any problem with filtration or treatment, if something doesn’t work things get pretty complicated. Several years ago I settled on a gravity filter (the Katadyn Base Camp), as the best way to provide water for a group. Gravity filters aren’t prone to mechanical failure like pump filters and require less fuss than chemical treatment. One serious limitation remained; the filter element.
No matter how careful we were to pre-filter for any solids suspended in the water the Katadyn elements slowed down to a trickle after ten or fifteen gallons of filtering. The Katadyn elements (pleated glass fiber) optimistically advertise that the filter will clean ‘up to two hundred gallons’. Our experience was more like 20-30 gallons, if that. We were replacing filter elements two or three times a year (we own three Base Camp filters) from a case lot we purchased at a discount. This spring we used the last of our stockpiled filter elements and I went shopping for more. The best price I could find was $40.00 per element, significantly more than we paid several years back so I started looking for alternatives.
I ran across the Sawyer 3-way water filter that employs hollow membrane technology derived from kidney dialysis. According to the company website they engineered a hollow fiber filter for quick flow, accurate filtration and to withstand back washing so the filter can be reused.
In the filter water passes through tiny micro-pores of many “U” shaped micro-tubes. The number of tubes in the filter creates a large surface area providing one of the fastest filter flow rates in the world. The pores are smaller than waterborne, illness-causing microorganisms. and the filters meet or exceed EPA and worldwide standards (there’s extensive testing data here if you are interested).
I purchased three of the Sawyer 3-way water filter elements, refit our Katadyn bags and took them on our week-long canoe trip this summer. After a week of trouble-free filtering for three different crews (about 40 gallons during the week for each group of nine) I am sold, the Sawyer 3-Way worked like a champ. As each day passed I monitored the filter’s performance and it didn’t seem to slow down. Truth be told I was a little worried that we had done something wrong because the filter seemed to flow too fast! Be sure to check out the video for an idea of just how well the filter works.
The Sawyer 3-way water filter advertises ‘ one million gallons guaranteed’. I haven’t any idea if that’s possible, but so far so good.
Gravity filters are much more common now than they were several years ago. They have moving parts, and working from a reservoir rather than bending over a steam, are the quickest way(at least in my experience) to provide filtered water for a group. Sawyer offers a 2 and 4 liter filter system based on the 3-way filter element but anyone with a little ingenuity can modify a water bag for gravity filtration.
The 3-Way has quick tubing connectors (something increasingly common on outdoor gear) and includes a faucet adapter for back-washing the element. The instructions for back washing encourage using high pressure for back washing the filter, so hold the faucet adapter or you’ll get wet! I back washed our filters and they still flow as freely as they did when new. That’s really something.
Sawyer 3-Way Inline Water Filter at Amazon